Category Archives: Opinion

Make me safe, don’t make me armed: one teacher’s thoughts on school shootings

This past week, although I have not personally endured losing colleagues, friends, students, children of my own, I have had to stand by helplessly and watch as others in my teaching community have. I’ve had to read the horrific accounts from fellow Florida teachers within my ELA community who work at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, hearing how brave they had to be for their students while they endured something no teacher and no child should ever have to endure. I had to learn how these teachers lost their colleagues, the people they’ve been accustomed to working with everyday. I had to hear about how some lost their students, students they have bonded with, have formed relationships with, students who have impacted their lives in some meaningful way. Gone. It seems hard to imagine, I’m sure, especially for anyone working in a non-teaching position. But just picture going to work everyday, whatever your job may be, and pretend someone you’ve worked closely with, have had a working relationship with, and maybe even a friendship, is no longer there. Not because they moved, or got a new job, or just decided that career was no longer for them and quit. They aren’t there to interact with you in your place of work anymore because they are dead. And not dead because they died of natural causes, or a freak accident that no one could have prevented. Dead because of some horrific tragedy that could have been prevented. I’m sure you can at least imagine that.

As a Florida educator, I’m mad as hell. The one place children are supposed to be safe, the one place it’s my job to make sure they feel safe, is no longer safe. As teachers, we have enough to worry about with keeping our classroom managed, with making sure our students are in an environment they feeling comfortable learning in. We have enough to worry about with all the late-night grading and lesson planning, with the endless parent teacher conferences and parent emails, with the never-ending professional development required to keep our jobs, with the second jobs we sometimes have to take to make ends meet because our teacher salaries are inadequate. We have enough. So on top of all the many hats we wear during the course of our day, on top of all the things we have to juggle on a daily basis, now we have worry about keeping our students alive? What. Is. Wrong. With. This. Picture.

Look, I get it. As a teacher, we commit ourselves 100% to our students. We go above and beyond for them. We stay after school and offer tutoring to those kids who just don’t get it. We spend our own hard earned dollars on supplies we need to run our classrooms. We coach sports teams, and lead after school clubs, and give our time to any student who needs it. It’s what we signed up for when we took the job. No one going into teaching assumes it’s a regular ol’ 9-to-5 that doesn’t require any extra effort on our part. I know that. But how dare anyone who’s never set foot in a classroom as a teacher, who’s never experienced even one day in the life of a schoolteacher, come at us and say we are the ones who need to do more. Are you freaking kidding me? We bend over backwards to make sure our students are well cared for, that they have all the tools necessary to succeed. It’s not our job to be armed and ready to ward off any unstable person that decides to come at us with a gun. You want me to be armed as a teacher? Do you even understand what you’re asking of us? This is what you’re asking of us teachers:

  1. Learn how to be comfortable around guns. Because I’m sure as hell not. I respect other people’s right to bear arms, but I don’t like guns and wouldn’t feel comfortable owning one. So good luck getting me over that hurdle.
  2. Learn how to properly use said gun. Let’s say hypothetically I get over my dislike of being around guns. Now I have to be trained how to use the damn thing? And who is paying for that training?
  3. Figure out a place to keep said gun in classroom where no students will have access to it, yet will still be within reach should I ever need it to blow away an intruder. Yeah, this part is a real head-scratcher. So let’s say you convinced me to carry a gun, and you got me the training I need to know how to properly discharge it. Now where the f*ck am I supposed to keep this gun in my classroom? I can’t keep it on my person, because what if some dumb kid (and there are plenty of those in middle school where I teach) decides to be funny and try to grab at it? What happens if that dumb kid accidentally shoots me, or himself, or a classmate with it? Can’t be packing a piece while I’m trying to teach my students how to write a thesis statement. So where do I put it? In a desk drawer? It would have to be locked to prevent those same dumb kids from trying to get at it. So how am I truly supposed to get to it in the event of an emergency that would require it? Oh, and by the way, why the heck am I supposed to be responsible for having a gun?!

It just doesn’t seem feasible, not to mention it’s not something we as teachers should have to do. We shouldn’t have to worry about how we are going to protect our students from murderers. We shouldn’t have to make sure we have a way to defend ourselves when that crazed killer shows up on our campus. As teachers, we have to keep our students safe, yes. We have to keep them safe from bullies. We have to keep them safe from lack of confidence. We even have to keep them safe from their families if they don’t have a stable home life, or keep them safe from themselves if they’re thinking of hurting themselves. We shouldn’t have to keep them safe from disturbed individuals with easy access to a gun.

Guns aren’t going away. Mental illness isn’t going away. I’m not some delusional, irrational person who thinks the answers to all our problems lies in banning all guns. I’m actually a very rational human who just wants my students, and myself, to be safe everyday when we walk into our school. We can have that again if we just reform certain laws, like the ones that allow anybody to purchase any type of gun they please. No average person outside the military needs to own an assault rifle, so why allow them to? Give us better funding to support students with mental illnesses so we can prevent these thoughts becoming a reality. Tackle the issues before they have a chance to manifest into such tragedies. I would rather be armed with knowledge and resources on how to prevent my students from ending up as that crazy ex-student who shoots up a school. I don’t want to be literally armed and just twiddling my thumbs doing nothing, awaiting the day I have to use my gun to fight off a killer. Why can’t we just prevent the killer from manifesting in the first place?

Watching some of these brave teenagers address the president earlier today during the White House listening session brought tears to my eyes. One brother of Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 victims, said we just need to let all these ideas free-fly, that it’s important to let everyone be heard and then decide what to do with the information. How is it that a high school student can be so wise when the politicians we’ve elected to have that same intelligence are incapable? It really shouldn’t be this hard. Schools are supposed to be safe havens. Make them safe for us again. That’s all we want.

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Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part II

I’ve never felt so lucky.

When I woke up early Monday morning, I was surprised the storm had already passed. I was also surprised I managed to sleep through the worst of it. After anxiously awaiting what was being predicted to be the worst hurricane ever recorded, I guess my nerves were so shot they just needed sleep. Looking outside our friends’ apartment, you almost wouldn’t know a hurricane had just blown through. Sure, there was tree debris scattered about, but no trees down, no power lines down, no damage to any buildings as far as I could see. Their building hadn’t even lost power, which I was expecting at the height of the storm, around 1-2 am. They were high enough above sea level to experience no flooding, and protected enough to experience minimal damage from the winds.

But I knew my sleepy little town of Tarpon Springs would not be so easily missed. And I was right. Although my coworker called ahead to let me know he drove by my house and it looked unscathed, I really had no idea what I was going home to. The 40-minute drive home seemed to take forever; lights were out at major intersections and no one seemed to understand the rule of “treat it like a 4-way stop.” I anticipated accidents the whole way home. Huge trees were down all over the place; pockets of rain had pooled in various locations along the roadside. If things were this bad inland, I could only imagine how bad they were near the bayou where I lived. I pictured streets flooded up to front doors, and trees blown over, crushing anything in their path. I was hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

When we drove by our street, my heart definitely started pounding. Both entrances to our street were blocked off, so we couldn’t get close enough to see what was really going on. All we could see were trees everywhere, and no sign of our house. It was tucked back behind the trees, but we really couldn’t tell if it had been hit or not. When we pulled up and got out, the power company was already there. We spoke to one of the crew members; he told us they were securing the live wires and making it safe for the city to come back and clean things up (which they haven’t, but my neighbors got it done with their chainsaw; gotta love those reckless Floridians). We gave them a few hours, and then we drove back over and skirted our way through the debris to our front door. IMG_0665

I was in shock. Not one, but two trees had fallen from our yard. The one on the right I expected, because it was dead and constantly dropped branches on my car during any light wind or rain storm, so there was no way a hurricane wasn’t taking it out. But the beast of a tree on the left of our house, that thing was so solid I never would have pictured it coming down. Amidst all this disaster, our house was untouched. I couldn’t believe it. Not one branch hit the roof on its way down. There was no flooding in our house, no water damage that we would see. After witnessing accounts of homes destroyed on Irma’s path inland, I expected much more damage than this. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but I have never felt more grateful in all my life. I just wish the storm had instead taken out that annoying mango tree I hate so much (it’s stubbornly still standing, the only tree remaining in our front yard, the jerk).

But really, I know how lucky we got with our house, and our town, and ourselves. I know this storm should have been much worse; I know the damage should have been much worse. The most we got was some trees down and our power knocked out. We won’t go home until our A/C is back on and our fridge works again, but at least we have a home to return to. I know the power companies are working tirelessly to restore as many homes to normalcy as quickly as they can. Of course I would like mine to come back fast, but I can understand if it’s going to take awhile. Because damn, did we dodge a huge bullet.

I have no intentions of leaving Florida any time soon, but if the next hurricane that rolls up like this could wait another 50+ years or so, I’d appreciate it.

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Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part I

I don’t even know where to start with this one.

Even though there have been some serious gaps in my writing over the years (like, say, the last 8 months or so especially), I’ve never in my whole life of being a writer had this much difficulty getting words out on the page. I stumble and trip over my spoken words on a daily basis (my students probably question my teaching abilities, but hey, remember that time I scored the highest 6th grade ELA state test scores? Yeah, that’s what I thought), but when you put pen & paper in front of me, or a computer screen in this case, I usually have a pretty easy time of eloquently flowing my thoughts from my brain into concrete words and phrases. But I don’t quite know what to say at the moment.

In the eleven years I’ve lived in Florida, and made the Sunshine State my home, I’ve never had to experience anything like this. And it hasn’t even hit us yet. I’ve been lucky living here so far; most hurricanes sweep right past the Tampa Bay area, because we are protected in this little alcove off the western coast of the state that I swear is like a magical bubble that simply repels all horrible weather. Sure, we get some pretty severe rain and flooding during the summer months of our annual “hurricane season,” and yeah, we are considered the lightning capital of North America, so we get some pretty intense storms, but that is just typical South Florida weather that everyone who lives here endures. No one bats an eye at that type of weather because it comes and goes so often it isn’t worth fussing over. Even hurricanes that roll through usually drop to tropical storm conditions by the time sweet ‘ole Tampa gets the runoff. So this. Hurricane Irma. This is some next-level, zombie-apocalypse shit that I honestly never thought I would see. And it’s kind of terrifying.

When Harvey hit Houston, I was scared for my cousin who lives there. I was saddened when I saw the damage and destruction the storm caused. But I didn’t really understand the severity of the situation because seeing something on the internet, watching news clips of what it’s like isn’t the same as experiencing it for yourself. So while I tried to imagine what those people were going through (and still are, trying to repair their towns and salvage what remains of their homes), I can’t say I know what it feels like. Until now.

Unlike many Floridians across the peninsula, Kevin and I decided not to evacuate the IMG_0634state. We do live in the highest evacuation zone for flooding, so we did peace out, but we simply drove inland to our friends’ who live in higher ground, outside of any evac zones. I made the last minute decision to board up our house, because I just couldn’t stand the idea of doing nothing and then leaving our home to fend for itself. While we don’t own it, I would very much like to have something to return to when this is all said and done. My mom and stepdad helped us buy the wood and hastily install it; we did the same for their home. Schools were closed at this point, so I had plenty of time on my hands over the last several days to stock up, and prepare the house, and slowly start to panic and let the anxiety creep in. We planned to leave Sunday morning for Lutz, but that panic crept in further, and I made Kevin haul ass out of there Saturday night. While I feel better knowing we are tucked away from the storm surge that is sure to wash away our town, the anxiety and nervousness continues to eat away slowly at me. Nothing like having a week to wait for a day’s worth of torrential downpour and gale force winds. Hurry up, Irma, let’s get this over with.

As of now, we are safe. The wind has picked up, and it’s raining like any summer downpour. But I know it will get worse. The worst of it will hit late tonight when most people are sound asleep, but I know we won’t be. Or at least, I won’t be. I brought a stack of books to distract me, but even my favorite pastime can’t keep my mind of this monster coming for us. Without knowing what will truly happen, I can only picture the worst case scenario. I can only picture our house being washed away from the 10-foot storm surge. Or at the very least, being completely water-logged once we return. If we can return. The Pinellas County sheriff has closed the county, permitting no one to return to their homes until they’ve completely assessed all damage and give the go-ahead. This makes me believe they anticipate the worst. The uncertainty and waiting will surely kill me before the wind and floods do, that’s for sure.

I know homes can be rebuilt. I know personal effects can be replaced, and what is most important is being alive. I know I am better off than others; the devastation in the islands is terrifying and I couldn’t imagine living through that. I won’t pretend this is the worst thing that could ever happen, but I won’t minimize my fears and anxieties. I know my family is all safe at the moment, but being separated is hard. I hope Frank the cat makes it, and I hope we made the right decision by letting him fend for himself. There are so many what ifs right now, I just wish I had the capacity to tune it all out like everyone around me is seeming to do.

This blog has always been my outlet, even when I’ve neglected to write, so just getting this out on the page makes me feel a tiny bit better. If you’re going through this with me, comment and tell me what you’re doing to keep your sanity during this waiting game. If you aren’t in full-on survival mode, please keep this state in your thoughts and hope we make it out the other side. There may be a Part II, or Part III, depending on power/wifi capabilities in the next 24-48 hours, and depending on my ability to function like a normal human with actual thoughts and expressions other than “WHAT THE F*CK.”

At least Felix seems to be enjoying her new home away from home.

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Hey Mr. President, I’mma do me

I just want to make a quick comment about this election. First of all, no, I didn’t vote. I didn’t like my choices enough to vote one way or another, and I don’t believe in voting for the sake of voting. Voting for one candidate because you don’t want the other candidate to win doesn’t make sense to me. But this post isn’t about why I don’t vote (this post, however, is). I can say that if I had voted, I probably would have voted for Hillary, simply because I think she would have done a far better job of actually running the country than that other buffoon (who I still can’t believe was even an option in the first place).

That being said, I know many people are outraged by the outcome of this election. But I have to remind myself at the end of the day that, even though we all have to follow rules and regulations of this country as determined by the federal government (which includes the president), I still get to live my life on a day to day basis and determine how I’m going to act. That includes being a good person, being a positive role model to my students, being a good sister, and a good girlfriend, and a good daughter, and a good friend to all of the people that matter in my life. Even just being a good person overall, morally and ethically, being kind to strangers and being forgiving when it’s due. Accepting and understanding that we are all human, which means we are all flawed. And that’s okay.

This is what truly matters at the end of the day, and I’m not going to change who I am and how I live my life simply by who is holding office in that big white house. And you shouldn’t either. Yeah, it sucks how ridiculous and absurd this election has been from the start, and yeah, the results are even more laughable. And yeah, I’m sure certain things in our lives will be affected and will change at some point when those new laws are passed, and the whole country might go to shit one day because the guy running it can’t even figure out how to buy a proper hair piece. But the only thing that really matters to me at the end of the day is continuing to live my life the way that I do, trying every day to do whatever I can for my family and friends and those around me. Because if you think about our nation’s history, we’ve been through a lot worse. We can overcome these new obstacles because we find new ways to triumph when times get tough. Overall, our nation is filled with brilliant people of all walks of life, people who can think outside of the box and can take situations that may not be favorable and make them into something better. So yes, while I remain stupefied and shocked and angered and (most of all) disappointed that so many of my fellow Americans voted for such an idiot, I’m not worried about the fate of our country. That seems a bit extreme. We still live in one of the greatest countries in the world; we’re not living in a third world country, I don’t feel scared for my life when I leave my house everyday or even when I come home at night. I get to go to my job everyday, work hard making a difference in the lives of young minds, and come home to a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and the relaxing atmosphere of being at home in my own safe space. A lot of people don’t have that, even in this country, so I’m grateful for the things that I do have in my life.

I’m trying to be more positive overall in my life, and that includes this situation right here. I could very easily jump on the bandwagon with all the haters and just be bitter and spew filth from my mouth. But instead I’m going to try and look at it in a positive light, because getting angry over something that I have zero power to change is pointless (because, after all, the election is over now, we had our chance and this is what most of us wanted, apparently). At the end of the day, our country has been through a lot worse. This is not the end of the world. Because, one way or another, we will come out the other side of all of this. We may be different when we reemerge, but we’ll still be intact. Life isn’t perfect, but we can all still find ways to make it wonderful, regardless of who’s in the oval office.

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If I was into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing, this just might be mine

This is my first post of the new year, but it’s by no means one of those “new year, new me” inspirational-type posts people get crazy and write at the beginning of a new year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, and I plan on being the same mediocre writer this year as I was last year and years’ past.

That just came off super pessimistic, and I didn’t really intend it to. I just sometimes wonder why I can’t be a more dedicated writer. After all, after putting minimal thought into what I’m about to say next, I’ve realized that I’m not really “great” at any one particular thing, except maybe writing. I’m good at a lot of different things, and that’s cool. It’s what has made me so versatile over the years, and probably what’s also made me feel like I’ve never really fit into one specific type of “person” category (whether that’s a positive thing or not, I’m not really sure). I’m blessed with the natural ability to dance and move my body in a way that isn’t awkward or terrifying to the people around me, but I would very likely lose to someone else in a dance-off. Mainly because I repeat the same dozen dance moves over and over, and tend to incorporate a lot of head bobbing and face making into my improv routine. I’d like to think doing that makes me look like a female version of Ne-Yo, but more than likely I just end up looking like this:

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I also have the natural inclination of being musically-talented; though never formally trained, I inherited a good set of pipes from my mother, and the ability to, like the rest of my family, play the guitar in a good-enough manner to resemble music. But I never had the range of both my mom and my sister to hit the high notes, and my guitar-strumming abilities are limited to the 10 or so main chords that make up any basic hit (but I guess that’s mainly my fault because I refuse to learn bar chords or anything that has to do with Bm). I’m good at yoga, but don’t do it frequently enough to call myself a yogi. I’m naturally athletic (enough to the point that I shocked all of Kevin’s colleagues on our co-ed softball team when I was able to proficiently catch, throw, hit, and run the bases during our intramural games; I honestly didn’t think catching a softball and throwing it to the next baseman was all that difficult, but apparently a lot of women can’t do it), but I haven’t been faithful as an athlete to any one particular sport since I played soccer in high school 10 years ago. As far as hobbies go, I’ve never really stuck with anything long enough to become skilled at it. I usually try it, get good enough to where I can perform above a beginner’s level, and consider it mastered. I’ve always been difficult to please, and it isn’t necessarily that I get bored with things easily, I just want to try so many different things I don’t feel there’s enough time to stick with one thing for a prolonged period of time. Except for writing.

For me, writing has always been the one go-to that I was just naturally born talented at (at least I think I am; people tell me I have a way with stringing groups of words together, but who can really say?). Maybe that’s why I neglect it so much more than I should. In a way, I’m probably taking it for granted, just assuming my talents will always be there no matter what. Because really, just like anything else, if I don’t hone my craft, it will probably just wither away, won’t it? Like an ill-watered houseplant, so desperate for a drink it’s willing to sacrifice its beautiful leaves in a last ditch effort to preserve its roots, its soul.

See? I can totally write things.

As I said before, I don’t make resolutions. I think it’s good to have goals, but resolutions seem too fleeting, like, the moment you achieve it, you will give yourself a nice pat on the back and revert to your old ways. I also don’t like the idea of using a new year as an excuse to stop being one way and start being another. If you want to make a change in your life, just fucking do it.

Therefore, I’m not going to make any resolutions for 2016. But I will say that I’d like to try to be more dedicated to my craft, because writing is basically all I’m really great at. And I’m okay with that. But if I don’t stop ignoring what I was pretty much put on this earth to do, I might not be able to do it well anymore. And that would be a tragedy. So hopefully for you, my faithful followers, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me this year than you did last year.

Who knows, maybe I’ll become so dedicated to my writing in 2016 that I’ll actually finish my novel and get it published, and my non-resolution this time next year will be writing a follow-up, or better yet, retiring early.

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